Wheelchair-bound boy fulfills ballet dream in 'Nutcracker'
November 27, 1997
Web posted at: 5:01 p.m. EST (2201 GMT)
CHICAGO (CNN) -- Stephen Hiatt Leonard is only 9 years old,
but he's already made ballet history.
Stephen was born with cerebral palsy, and is confined to a
wheelchair. But determined and inspired by wheelchair
dancers he saw in a Joffrey Ballet production last summer,
the youngster auditioned earlier this year for a role in
Joffrey Ballet of Chicago's production of "The Nutcracker."
His presence caught the company's open-minded artistic
director off guard.
"To my amazement, in comes Steve. I was just taken aback, and
thought, 'THIS is great!'" Gerald Arpino recalls.
Arpino, always willing to experiment, gave Stephen a part.
Stephen's parents say Arpino's overture overwhelmed them.
"WOW, that's right, WOW. That's exactly how we felt," his
parents, Lynn Hiatt and David Leonard, told CNN.
Arpino wrote Stephen into the story, choreographing a role
that could accommodate the boy's wheelchair and the other
dancers on stage. Stephen is now the first wheelchair dancer
to perform with the company in a production of "The
"I'm a party guest, in the party scene, which is in the very
beginning," Stephen told CNN.
When opening night rolled around, Stephen made a request most
kids could appreciate. He asked his dad not to cry, because
"you'll embarrass me."
The tears came anyway.
"After the tears stopped, I certainly felt pride," Leonard
said. "This is something that even as we've gotten into
this, it still knocks me for a loop. It's just so incredible
Perhaps Stephen's stage debut will spark a ballet career.
The Joffrey already has invited him to accompany the
Nutcracker troupe to Washington, D.C., where the ballet
production will be performed in December at the Kennedy
Correspondent Lisa Price contributed to this report.